HC Deb 27 January 1956 vol 548 cc507-40

11.5 a.m.

The Chairman

It might be for the convenience of the Committee if I indicated which Amendments I think are linked together. The first Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) is the forerunner of a number of Amendments which might be taken with it. They include the second Amendment to Clause 2, and the first three Amendments to Clause 3, and then, missing the next one on the Notice Paper, the next three.

The third and fourth Amendments to Clause 2, which are in the names of the hon. Members for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) and Oldham, West, are both outside the scope of the Bill and, therefore, out of order.

In due course I propose to call the fourth Amendment in page 1134 of the Notice Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) which is to Clause 3, page 3, line 1, and the last Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, to Clause 6, page 4, line 22.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

On a point of order. I want the position to be clear. You say, Sir Charles, that the third Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) and myself is out of order?

The Chairman

Yes. The two are out of order. They go beyond the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Brockway

That is the third Amendment on the Notice Paper?

The Chairman

And the fourth. The Amendment to Clause 3, page 3, line 1, in the name of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough will be called by itself.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, to leave out from "as" to the end of the line and to insert: the Secretary of State for the Colonies may by statutory instrument made under the Statutory Instruments Act, 1946". I am much obliged for your help and guidance, Sir Charles. While I have no power whatever, in almost any circumstances, to speak for anybody else, so far as I personally am concerned it seems to me that the suggestion you have made about taking the Amendments together is the one which one would have liked to adopt. Indeed, they are all consequential. If the first one were accepted, I have no doubt they would all be accepted, and if the first one were rejected then no doubt the others would fall automatically.

It is rather an arduous job to put all these Amendments on the Notice Paper when they can be discussed together, especially when they are due for discussion on the day for which I do not even get a subsistence allowance; but we have done it and I hope that some notice will be taken of the value of our efforts.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

Overtime without pay.

Mr. Hale

Yes, overtime without pay.

I hope that it will not be out of order for me to say, before proceeding, how much we should like to congratulate the new Minister of State for Colonial Affairs on his presence on the Front Bench. Reasons for congratulating a Minister are sometimes associated with his own pleasing personality and sometimes associated with the fact that some of us thought that a change was necessary. I should not like for one moment to be sufficiently ungenerous either way as to emphasise which particular factor is the operating one in this case.

We know that if the Minister brings his normal charm to the Front Bench and if he answers our questions in the way we want, then he will be a success. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not be misled by today's news into thinking that the wrong answer always wins the jackpot. The 52-dollar question which the Minister will be asked in the course of the debate is the one put by a noble Lord in another place from the Opposition Front Bench. That noble Lord is, of course, a Hare of another colour, but the question remains to be answered and we hope that it will be.

I put myself in a difficulty with this Amendment which is an important and serious one which, I hope, will be fully discussed. I feel that I am the wrong person to be criticising by implication Her Majesty's Privy Council, and I doubt whether I should have the temerity to do so were I certain that such a body ever really existed. So far as I can gather, the Privy Council is very like the Board of Trade, which I believe is, technically speaking, a department of it. The Board of Trade never meets. Certainly, it has not met while the present Government have been in office—and there are other reasons for that. I gather that the Privy Council meets on the demise of the Crown, and as we are all passionately hoping that no such occasion as that will arise in the twentieth century, we cannot hope to see the Council meeting in full and collectively, and giving Her Majesty the benefit of its collective wisdom, on many occasions.

The provisions of the Bill are wide and, indeed, in any constitutional Measure it is right that we should draw a Bill widely. But the whole operative powers are vested in the Privy Council. Who are the Privy Council? They are 285 gentlemen of great learning and wisdom, most of whom have been appointed to the Privy Council because they have obtained high political or judicial office and are now important in colonial affairs.

A couple of Ministers can meet anywhere in the country. On the occasion of the discussion of the suspension of the Constitution of British Guiana, which is perhaps the most important colonial event of the past few years, a meeting took place at Balmoral at 2.15 in the afternoon. I tried to discover how long it lasted; my recollection is that it was ten minutes, but I may be wrong. The only persons present were the Secretary of State for the Colonies himself, the Home Secretary and Sir Sidney Abrahams, then a distinguished member of the Colonial Service. I believe he is still a member of the Service or, at any rate, his name is closely associated with colonial affairs.

The meeting lasted a very short time and decision was made. An Order in Council was made some days later, and some days after that this House was informed that a decision had been made. What is the good of that? We had a Select Committee on delegated legislation which went into these matters with some care and consideration. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who is a great expert in these matters, will correct my defective memory if I err, but my recollection, without having looked up the point, is that we had considerable difficulty in finding out when an Order in Council is subject to affirmative Resolution and when it is subject to negative Resolution—and I believe that there are some which are not brought before this House at all.

It was because of such considerations that this House, in its collective wisdom, passed the Statutory Instruments Act, in 1946. It was said that there are all sorts and sizes of Measures and all sorts and sizes of bits of paper. If we wish to provide £25,000 for veterinary science we promote a Bill. If we desire to provide £5 million for the "blokes in the City," we do it by Treasury Minute, which is not even laid on the Table or, if it is, it is not visible to the naked eye. This fantastic mixture of procedure reached such a state of complexity that the time came to lay down an ordinary sensible method, so it is said, "You do it by Statutory Instrument."

What is the objection to that? It will be the Minister of State, or his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, subject to the Cabinet, who will make the decision. So it would be with the Privy Council. It would be the Minister. We then say that there are two days of dealing with Statutory Instruments. One is to say that they may be revoked within 40 days by means of a Prayer, and the other is to say that they do not come into force until there is an affirmative Resolution of the House; or at least that an affirmative Resolution must be moved to complete the operative process. What can be wrong with that in a matter of this kind?

11.15 a.m.

I wish now to come to one general consideration. I hope that the Minister of State will forgive me if I make a small complaint about the Colonial Office which I do not associate with his arrival in office—it is a repetition of something which has happened before. At this moment not a very large number of hon. Members have considered the question of what are sometimes called the "Loo'ard Islands" and sometimes the "Leeward Islands", and which I shall call the "Leeward Islands", because that is what they are called there—never mind what they are called in the Royal Yacht Club. Having made that concession, I am prepared to call Antigua, "Anteega", although in the days when limericks were my favourite form of poetry it would have spoilt the rhyme.

But there is no information in the House about the Leeward Islands. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway), I do not often get selected for colonial trips. I do not think that either of us has been selected since I have been a Member of this House. I was once selected, but upon reflection I was dropped, and was promised that I should be put on the next one. That was in 1946 and I am still waiting for the promise to be carried out. Therefore, we do not have the opportunity of seeing the Colonies at first hand and have to obtain our information from official documents.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite may say, "What right have you fellows to talk about colonial matters when you have only read the blue books? "There is, of course, the grave moral question of whether any party at Westminster ought to be discussing Colonies at all. But so long as one has that responsibility, one has to discharge it in the best way one can and with the means at one's disposal, to the satisfaction of the electors of Oldham, West and not the electors of the Leeward Islands.

Mr. Peter Smithers (Winchester)rose——

Mr. Hale

Did the hon. Gentleman wish to interrupt?

Mr. Smithers

I was wondering why the hon. Member was complaining about the Colonial Office.

Mr. Hale

I was coming to that. Every other Ministry tries to see that there is relevant information in the Vote Office and the Library before a Bill is presented to this House. The Second Reading debate on this Bill was on 24th November, last. The Library staff are very courteous and will get almost anything, if one gives them reasonable time. One receives a tremendous amount of help from the Library staff—

Mr. Smithers

The Colonial Report is in the Library.

Mr. Hale

It is not in the Sales Office or the Vote Office. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is."] I have inquired and I am told it is not there.

Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)

It is in the Library; I am sure it is.

Mr. Hale

There is one copy of the Colonial Report for 1949–50 in the Library, and I am told that that was missing for a great number of hours last night. There is also an odd collection of reports. One relating to Montserrat's education and an index of social services, and so on.

Mr. Smithers

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but he should complain to the Library and not about the Colonial Office.

Mr. Hale

The hon. Gentleman says that I should complain to the Library. I have received the greatest help from the Library staff, who promised to go to the Colonial Office and get it for me. It was my fault for asking too late for the information, but a month previously it was not there. The reason I am complaining about the Colonial Office is that during the whole of the ten years I have been a member of this House other Ministries have always seen that there is information at the Vote Office and a sufficient number of copies of White Papers, and so on, so that hon. Members do not have to queue up and say, "Please may I have that White Paper when the hon. Member for Eton and Slough has finished with it." I should have thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite would be too keen on the rights of hon. Members to make these foolish interruptions.

Now, if I may leave these prodromus remarks and return to my point I will explain why I disapprove of the Privy Council as the legislative body for colonial affairs. One of the reasons why it should be this House is that Colonies vary so much in size, pride, history and importance. The right hon. Gentleman, referring to the Leeward Islands in the early part of the Second Reading debate, mentioned the three hundred years during which those islands have not benefited very much economically. There are still the Virgin Islands perhaps with a population of only 7,000 or 8,000, and thirty-six islands, of which only eleven are inhabited, lying far away from the rest and having their own terrible problems of transport.

People move out in whole populations to the American Virgin Islands for weeks of work each year. The American Virgin Islands have the finest harbour in the whole Antilles and possibly in the Caribbean, and a much higher standard of life. It is a very real problem and one which should not be settled by the Colonial Secretary meeting the Home Secretary at Balmoral and saying, "Someone has jotted down a document for me, and this is it "This is a problem which should be settled by debate in this House, and that is why I have moved the Amendment.

The Minister of State for Colonial Affairs (Mr. John Hare)

I wish, first of all, to thank the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) for the very kindly remarks he made about by new appointment and to tell him that I deeply appreciate the courteous thought behind what he said. I have always been spellbound by the oratory of the hon. Gentleman, and I rather hoped that perhaps my first task would not be to have to refuse him something for which he has pleaded so very skilfully. However, I am afraid that is the position in which I find myself.

This set of Amendments is designed to substitute Statutory Instruments made by the Secretary of State for what is in the Bill, Orders in Council made by Her Majesty, and, secondly—and this, of course, is the really important point made by the hon. Gentleman—that these Statutory Instruments should be subject to the affirmative approval of both Houses of Parliament.

There is a number of reasons why Her Majesty's Government are unable to accept these Amendments. The first is that if they were accepted we should be putting the Leeward Islands in an almost unique position among Colonial Territories. It is at present, and has been for many years past, the practice that subsidiary legislation for Colonial Territories made under an Act of Parliament is enacted by Her Majesty in Council and not by an instrument made by the Secretary of State. I think the Committee will agree that it is a long-established practice with which Colonial Governments and colonial peoples are thoroughly familiar. I believe that the Committee would also agree that, in spite of the skill with which the hon. Gentleman deployed his argument, nothing has so far been said which would justify us in departing from what is, in fact, a well-tried and well-established practice.

I will quote a perfectly straightforward example of this. In 1946 when hon. Members opposite were in power, the Straits Settlements (Repeal) Act was passed, which provided that the former Straits Settlements should cease to be a single Colony, and empowered His Majesty at that time to make provision by Orders in Council. That Act provided by Order in Council, firstly, that power should be given for determining which laws should remain valid in those territories, notwithstanding the change in their government, secondly, the adapting or modifying of such laws, and, thirdly, for dealing with incidental, supplementary and consequential matters. I do not think that at the time that was challenged by any of the supporters of the Government of the day, and I merely use the illustration to show that, in fact, all parties have used this method in dealing with this type of legislation.

I think that the hon. Member for Oldham, West would agree that, taking the first two Amendments affecting Clauses 1 and 2, if he got his way, he would really be creating a somewhat illogical position, because what is being suggested is that in Clause 1 we should deal with a proposal that has not met with any fierce opposition from the inhabitants of the territories concerned, or even from a minority of them. I could have understood, if there had been strong opposition to the proposals, that there might be reason for the anxiety that this Bill should be discussed over and over again.

Mr. Hale

The spectacle conjured up by the right hon. Gentleman of the angry Virgin Islanders setting out across the Caribbean to protest against the Privy Councillors is rather more in the nature of a cartoon than a work of art.

Mr. Hare

That is a delightful thought, but I am trying to point out the illogicality of this Amendment as it applies to Clause 1. The House has had plenty of opportunity of debating the proposal, and I do not think that it wishes to go over the whole ground again, which would be the position if the Amendment were carried.

Again, if we look at Clause 2 (2), to which this Amendment applies, I can assure the Committee that it is only intended to deal with certain entirely uncontroversial matters consequential upon the dissolution of a federation into its separate parts. It will, in fact, enable Her Majesty by Order in Council to provide for the transfer of certain functions now performed federally by the individual Presidencies set up under the Act, and, as far as subsection (2, b) is concerned, there are provisions for such things as pensions to retired civil servants, of whom there are not many, and the assets of Federal Government which, again, are fairly small.

I honestly do not think that the Committee would wish to discuss these matters in principle, but, if the Amendments were accepted, we should be in the position where that would almost certainly have to be done. We come to the real point of the Amendments when we reach Clause 3. The main object is to curb the power to make emergency laws. The mover of the Amendment wishes to secure that the power to legislate for an emergency shall be subject to an Affirmative Resolution of the House of Commons. That would be the effect of the Amendments proposed to Clause 3, when read together with the Amendments proposed to Clause 6.

Before dealing with the question of the emergency powers in the Leeward Islands in a little more detail in a moment, I would point out that it would be really irresponsible to suggest that an Order in Council or a Statutory Instrument to deal with an emergency in the Caribbean should be held up while Her Majesty's Government seeks the approval of Parliament. Such a procedure would be entirely irresponsible. It is obvious that such an eventuality might well arise while Parliament was in Recess. I know that Acts of Parliament are sometimes rather difficult to comprehend, but the words used in them often really mean what they say. I think that is true of the word "emergency." Emergencies are things which arise suddenly and which have to be dealt with swiftly. I hope the Committee will agree that is common sense.

What the hon. Gentleman is really asking is why we need a provision for emergency powers in this Bill. Have the Leeward Islands not got on well enough without having those powers? What new factors have arisen which make the Government consider a provision of this kind necessary and desirable? Those are all perfectly legitimate and sensible questions to ask. It may be in the recollection of the Committee that, in his speech on the Second Reading of the Bill, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State touched on this matter, and I should like to amplify what he said. He pointed out that a state of emergency has to be declared, not only to deal with a political crisis, but with such things as acts of God, which, unhappily, are out of our control.

Mr. Hale

There might be a hurricane on Wall Street.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Hare

Yes. They may have certain similarities; I do not know. I have never been to Wall Street. In the West Indies, in recent years, we have seen whole societies temporarily disrupted by the sudden onslaught of hurricanes. Only recently the hurricane "Janet" provided a particularly unhappy example. The Committee should realise that, with the growing population of West Indian territories and the growing complexity of their societies, the effects of these hurricanes are becoming more and more devastating each time. It is the view of Her Majesty's Government and the Governor that power should be given to make emergency laws if the need arises.

There is also a second reason—the political and constitutional one, which my right hon. Friend also mentioned. I would point out that a Ministerial system has just been introduced into the largest of these territories. "Just" is the operative word; it was introduced about a week ago, on 19th January. Details were published in our Press at the end of December, 1954. From last week Antigua—and I rather agree with the hon. Member about its pronunciation—and St. Kitts have had an executive council, with a majority of elected members from the legislative council. That has become the principal instrument of policy, whose advice from now onwards the Governor will normally be bound to accept. I think that the Committe will agree that this is a vital and important step forward in the march towards self-government.

At the time when these new constitutional changes were agreed to they were made subject to certain conditions by the Secretary of State, one of which was the introduction of the legislation which we are now discussing, to give the Governor power to make emergency laws. Clause 3 carries that arrangement into effect. I hope that hon. Members will accept what I say on this point and will not feel uneasy, or regard it as a retrogressive step. I can assure hon. Members that it is not so. Her Majesty's Government have every confidence in the capacity of the elected members of these territories, who have now assumed Ministerial responsibility, to discharge their duties faithfully and fairly.

As my right hon. Friend said during the Second Reading debate, the development of a Ministerial system in Colonial Territories has to be carried out carefully and patiently, and it is not unreasonable that it should be accompanied by a power placed in the hands of the Governors. The power of the Governor to deal with a sudden emergency is no new thing; it exists in regard to practically every other Colonial Territory, however advanced that territory may be. The Committee will probably agree with me that this is a form of insurance, which enables us to take this constitutional step forward with even greater confidence. I hope that the Committee will support me when I suggest that the Amendment should not be accepted.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale)—with all his qualifications and explanations—in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman. I believe that his family is creating a record. I understand that this is the first time in which two members of the same family, sitting on different sides of the House, have occupied the same office. Lord Listowel was Minister of State for the Colonies in the first Labour Government. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will live up to the tradition of his family in this field.

I should like to refer to the point mentioned by my hon. Friend in connection with the availability of reports. I am disturbed to hear that he found it difficult to obtain from the Library reports dealing with the Caribbean Islands. The Colonial Office produces an enormous volume of reports about the Colonies, including reports on separate Caribbean Colonies and on the economic and social life of the whole Caribbean area. The complaint which was made in my period of office was that the reports were rather late in being published.

Mr. Hale

I do not complain of a difficulty in obtaining reports from the Library; my complaint is that they are not in the Library. When I asked for them the Library at once offered to send someone to the Colonial Office to get them—as the Library always does—but they were not there, and they ought to be.

Mr. Griffiths

That question should be looked into. I would point out that between 200 and 300 hon. Members are on Sir William McLean's list. He regularly provides all those Members with a complete list of colonial publications. He himself, with the assistance of the Colonial Office, has produced a series of memoranda dealing with various aspects of colonial policy, economic and social, and also with political developments and constitutional changes. I mention these facts now so that those hon. Members who want to keep informed on colonial matters may apply to be placed on Sir William McLean's list.

I want to pay tribute not only to the Service which he rendered while a member of the Colonial Office, but also to the very distinguished service he is. rendering in his retirement. He has found a niche in which he can provide-a very valuable service to hon. Members. I hope that the OFFICIAL REPORT will record the fact that if hon. Members apply to Sir William McLean they will be placed on his list and will be able to have the advantage of reading his very valuable memoranda, which are issued from time to time.

One attraction of the proposal put forward by my hon. Friend arises from the fact that since 1945 immense changes have taken place in our Colonies. It may be that I am not giving him enough notice, but I wonder whether the Minister could tell us how many new constitutions have been brought into operation since that date. Many of those changes have been brought in under the procedure which obtains in this case. There have been the Gold Coast constitutions, constitutions in the Far East, the Caribbean, Nigeria and other parts of Africa, the Mediterranean and elsewhere.

One of the disadvantages of this procedure is that a new constitution is arranged and settled following a report of a commission, or after discussions or negotiations. Then the instruments for bringing the new constitution into operation are prepared, and it is brought into force by an Order in Council. It is not brought to the House, as are Statutory Instruments. One of the advantages of the course advocated by my hon. Friend would be that if it had operated in the last ten years our people would have been very much better informed about the changes which have taken place than they now are. The present procedure is a matter of doing good by stealth, with a vengeance.

If all these matters had been brought before the appropriate Committee of the House and had been made subject to an affirmative Resolution, thereby allowing the House sufficient time to discuss them, Members of Parliament and the rest of the country would be very much better informed. I should, perhaps, point out that the pace at which development has taken place in the last ten years would have meant that such a procedure would certainly have added to the business of the House, but I have always felt that the opportunities available for discussing and considering colonial problems are altogether inadequate.

Many years ago—long before I came to the House—I was attracted by the view put forward with so much force and eloquence by one of the early Labour Members—Fred Jowett, from Bradford. He came here from local government, and found it very frustrating. He had been used to serving on local government committees, where officers provided him with all the necessary information, and where there were many opportunities of taking a positive and active part in local government work. He came to the House and found that he had to sit here for long periods, trying to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in order to make a speech. He served occasionally on a Private Bill Committee or on a Standing Committee of the House, but he found that he missed the many opportunities he had had, in local government, of participating in affairs.

His idea was that the whole procedure of the House of Commons should be reconstructed upon the basis of local government procedure. There would be a Standing Committee associated with each Department and Minister which Would sit and consider problems from time to time. The Scottish Standing Committee does that now, but the plan would apply generally. Whether the system would work for all the Departments I do not know, but I have often felt that it would be an enormous advantage to the Secretary of State for the Colonies and to the House of Commons, as well as to the people in the Colonial Territories, if a continuous opportunity had existed for Members to take an active interest in colonial affairs.

Both the major parties and the Liberal Party have groups of people who take a keen interest in colonial matters and who come together within the precincts of the House to discuss the problems, but as a whole the House has not an adequate opportunity. If this proposal had been in operation since 1945 this country might be much better informed of the changes that have taken place.

Mr. Smithers

Would it really have that effect? I heartily sympathise with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. There should be more time for debating colonial matters in this House, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that the reason is not that the Colonial Office does not welcome discussion, but that those right hon. Gentlemen who are in charge of the business of the House are unable to find the necessary time. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman recalls that when he was Secretary of State that was true of his right hon. Friends who were in charge of business. Some of them are on the Front Bench opposite at-this moment. If, theoretically, there were the opportunities he desires to discuss all these matters, does the right hon. Gentleman think that the Leaders of the House, of either party, would be able to find the time?

Mr. Griffiths

If we reconstructed the procedure of Parliament on the basis suggested by Mr. Fred Jowett the opportunity would, at any rate, be there. Let me say to Leaders of the House, past and present, that in past years we never had an adequate opportunity of discussing colonial affairs. When I first came to this House almost the only debate on Colonial affairs took place on a day in July which coincided with a garden party at Buckingham Palace. Only 20 or 30 Members used to take part in it. We have had many more opportunities in recent years. I hope we shall have even more in the future.

The Minister has referred to emergencies such as hurricanes in the West Indies. In these days, when we can do so many wonderful things, it strikes me, as a layman, as very unfortunate that we should know that a hurricane is approaching the West Indies but should be unable to do anything about it. Almost the last act of mine as Secretary of State for the Colonies, in 1951, was to grant financial aid to Jamaica after one of these disasters. We knew that a hurricane was moving towards the island, but all we could do was to sit down and wonder whether it would hit it. In these days of nuclear energy and inventions which are almost miracles is it necessary to have to sit down and let these terrible things hit the islands? Are we, in these days, to wait for three days in those circumstances without doing anything? I hope some investigation will take place on the possibility of dispersing hurricanes before they reach the islands.

11.45 a.m.

I hope that the Minister will not close his eyes to the possibility, on the political side, of reconsidering what should happen in political emergencies. It may not be in order to discuss British Guiana, but there would be some advantage if, before we took the final step of suspending a colonial constitution, a discussion took place in the House of Commons. There might be a pause for a week or ten days before the final step was taken from which it is difficult to recover. It is difficult to start the constitution again in a place like British Guiana.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West is to be congratulated on moving this Amendment. He will agree with me that it is not necessary to divide the House upon it, now that the matter has been well ventilated.

Mr. Haleindicated assent.

Mr. Griffiths

I hope that the Bill will get a Third Reading. Behind it is the desire that the Leeward Islands, with their wonderfully attractive names, will make further progress. Their representatives will be here very shortly. In fact, I believe they are in process of arrival. I understand that the Bill will facilitate the association of these islands with the new Caribbean Federation, the new Dominion which we hope may be taken towards its decisive stages in the conference which is about to take place in this country.

We shall welcome the visitors from all these West Indian islands. The conference will consider big constitutional changes which will bring a new Dominion into the British Commonwealth. I hope that it will be accompanied with a bold and imaginative plan of social and economic development for the Caribbean as a whole.

Let us have a Colombo Plan for the Caribbean. Let the political changes be accompanied by a bold economic programme. Let us hope that Her Majesty's Government will be generous in this matter. Our experience in the Colonies in the past few years is that of waiting until there is a crisis of some kind, as in Cyprus, Kenya and elsewhere. After the crisis we pour money in. Perhaps if we had been a bit more generous before, the crisis would have been avoided.

This is a new venture in self-government unlike anything which has taken place anywhere in the world. It is a federation into a federal dominion of islands separated by hundreds of miles. It is a tremendous venture. No one has ever attempted anything like it in the history of the world so far as I know. It seeks to bring together the people of the islands, charming people, whom to know is to like and to admire. I hope that the conference will be a very great success and that the Bill will facilitate the possibility and the practicability of the joining of these islands. As to the Virgin Islands, it is a reflection upon us that the American Virgin Islands have a much higher standard of life than exists in our part. I hope that more attention will be paid to the British Virgin Islands so that their people can make greater economic progress.

There should be a conference of representatives of the Colonies. It would be an advantage to have a general discussion on all the immense changes that have taken place. Power is gradually leaving this House and going out to the Colonies. A discussion between us and representatives of the Colonies on these changes might be very desirable.

Mr. Smithers

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has taken this occasion to fly a great many kites—the sky is absolutely full of them. I think he was quite right. He has raised many topics about which it is valuable to think, although I am sure he would agree that it may be premature to come to conclusions about them. He founded his arguments in support of the Amendment on the allegation that it would enable the House to discuss colonial affairs more fully, but, at the same time, he really kicked away the Amendment's main prop. All of us who know how business is conducted here must surely realise that the limiting factor is not whether a particular subject is technically discussable; the limiting factor is time and the conduct of business.

Anyone who has seen anything of the inside of any Government Department must know all too well the struggle among Ministers to secure time for the discussion of particulars matters. There are, of course, innumerable hon. Members on both sides who do a tremendous amount of quiet work on colonial matters and who would like to be able to debate them in this House, but I suggest that were this Amendment accepted those hon. Members would be in the same intolerable position, because it would be a physical impossibility to provide any substantially greater amount of time to debate such subjects. It could be done only by sacrificing something else.

What the right hon. Gentleman says may be—and I think is—a very valid argument for revising our procedure. The House of Commons in many ways is an extremely unsatisfactory place to discuss, say, colonial matters, because no one has sufficient time to go in detail into matters of great importance to the territories concerned. If we had better procedure and more time for discussion there would be nothing whatsoever to stop any hon. Member raising any of those matters in debate. There is always the Supply Day procedure, or the right hon. Gentleman might at some time seek to introduce new procedures, but I am sure that the mere passing of this Amendment would not mean that there would be more time available for the discussion of colonial affairs.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

It is a very great pleasure to break with the usual practice of the House and to follow the hon. Member immediately preceding me. The normal practice is to congratulate an hon. Member on what he has said and then to ask to be allowed to develop one's own points. Today I can follow the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) by telling him that Statutory Instruments are exempted business and create their own time. Were this Amendment to be passed, therefore, the House would have the necessary time to discuss these matters—despite the tragic picture he has painted of Ministers jostling for time in the Cabinet Room.

Mr. Smithers

That is, of course, technically the case, but one of the principal objections to our present procedure is that these matters are then discussed at unearthly hours of the night—and hon. Members opposite are the first to raise such objections. I am sure that if that were to be done the Colonial Office would be accused of bringing all its business to the House at the dead of night when few hon. Members were present to discuss it.

Mr. Benn

The hon. Member destroys his own argument, because to get up and admit that his argument was theoretically wrong, but that if the procedure were altered it might be theoretically right, does not add emphasis to what he says.

I want to join with other hon. Members in congratulating the new Minister on his appointment. Those of us who have watched political events in this country feel strongly that the qualifications he brings to his office are great ones. As a former vice-chairman of the Conservative Party he should be well fitted to look after the backward peoples. Having said that, I should like very briefly to deal with the arguments advanced by him in his maiden speech as a Minister. The most important of his arguments was that no case has been made out; there was no pressure in the Islands or in this House for this procedure, either in the past or now. The answer to that is surely very simple. We are the Members of Parliament for the Leeward Islands. The population of the Islands is about 114,000, which, even with the uncertainties of the Boundary Commission, amounts to about two ordinary constituencies in the United Kingdom. For the sake of argument and to make it personal, it amounts to about the Minister's constituency plus my own. Our case is that, as the people ultimately responsible for the future of these Islands, we demand the right to have advance information about acts which the Government propose to take concerning them.

I find it constitutionally very objectionable that the Order in Council procedure should be used for matters as important as this. I speak as a relatively young Member of this House, but I have enough Parliamentary history to know that the whole history of Parliament is the gradual control by the House of Commons over the acts of the Executive. The Order in Council procedure is tolerated in modern circumstances only because it is known that on domestic issues the House of Commons can at any time throw out the Government, and thereby throw out the operative members of the Privy Council who have made the Order.

It is quite a different matter when we turn to colonial affairs, because, although they are the responsibility of individual Members of Parliament, such affairs do not come as much to the forefront of our minds as do those affecting our own constituencies. I do not think that any hon. Member would be willing to tolerate an Act of Parliament which allowed the affairs of his own constituency to be arranged by Order in Council. There are many reasons for this. The one which sums it up best is that the only place where one can find out what the Privy Council is doing is in the Court Circular.

Although it may be attractive to some of our traditionally-minded hon. Members to look through the births and deaths of titled people in order to find out what is happening in the political world, most of us prefer to refer to HANSARD. One glaring example of the present procedure is that the only indication given of the suspension of the constitution in British Guiana was in the Court Circular—Balmoral on such-and-such a date. Such a procedure is offensive, not only from the legal and constitutional aspect, but from the point of view of common sense.

What is the real point that lies behind this Amendment? It is that this is an attempt to obtain for hon. Members some control over what is done so that they can exercise the responsibility which is theirs in law. How can that be done? First of all, it can be done by getting information. It is difficult to get information about the Colonies when one goes to the Library. Here I make no attack on the Library staff, nor, indeed, upon Sir William McLean's work in the Colonial Office, because along with other hon. Members I get a regular stream of stuff from Sir William.

I was able to find out something about the Leewards only because two years ago I ordered the Economic Survey of the Territories which contains quite a section on these Islands. After Sir Bernard Docker's passionate appeal for national economy, I am ashamed to say that it cost the Government £2 to provide me with that survey—perhaps in future we may have to get the information from the British Museum.

We also want more control. It may be argued that the Government always gets its own way in any case. That is perfectly true. Indeed, when hon. Members reflect too long upon the frustration of being back benchers they sometimes get depressed. I understand that Mr. Christopher Hollis, who until recently was a most distinguished Member of this House, left politics because he said that his function as a back bencher could be performed by a well-trained dog. That, however, is a counsel of despair, and even though we may always be beaten in the Division Lobby, hon. Members always have the right to get information from the Government.

12 noon.

This Amendment is a legitimate and constitutional attempt to get information out of the Government. It does not mean that we shall accept a Statutory Instrument if we do not like it, but it does mean that when we reach a decision it must be taken to the House of Commons. That is the virtue of this procedure. The Government are made responsible to the people who are responsible.

We never use the great weapon of dismissing the Government. I sometimes feel that the House of Commons is less privileged than the American Congress. They cannot get rid of the President unless they try to impeach him, but as a result of not having supreme power they are able to vote as they like. I would rather be a back bench Congressman—which is a contradiction in terms, because there is no such thing as a front bench Congressman—than be a back bench Member of Parliament——

Mr. Hale

Think of the salary.

Mr. Benn

—quite apart from financial considerations, which would apply even more to Members of the other place.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that in democratic development we are generations ahead of the Americans?

Mr. Benn

When I argue with American Congressmen about the relative merits of our two systems, I always point out that we can get rid of our Government. But what is the result? The result is that we are like a man with a lot of jewels, defending them with a hydrogen bomb. We dare not use it. If the only method that the police had to deal with burglars was the use of hydrogen bombs, the burglars would get away with murder, which is what the Government do all the time.

Let us use our power today to force something innocent from the Government—information. Let us compel the Government to give us the information on which they wish to base their policy in the future. I do not think that even the Minister himself, reading his speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT, would wish to base himself on the claim that this is an irresponsible Amendment. It is a responsible Amendment in the true sense of the term. We are asking that we should be allowed to exercise the responsibility of surveillance and not that the Government should do it without responsibility to Parliament.

I believe the case is a cast iron one. I do not believe that the argument that it has never been done before is of great importance, because apart from the argument about precedents—and everything has to be started once—in the last ten years there has been an enormous change in public thinking about colonial and dependent peoples, and not only in this country. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) gave a good example when he said that Parliament now discusses these colonial affairs much more. We are now conscious of our responsibility.

There is now, however, a much wider forum where problems of the future of colonial peoples are considered. The United Nations is limited by its procedure and traditions in discussing these matters in too great detail, but let us make no mistake that what happens in Cyprus, Latvia, Esthonia, Lithuania or Formosa is now the subject of world discussion and comment. Anything which helps to bring out information which helps those who are responsible to exercise that responsibility is worthy of consideration by the Government.

For those reasons, I hope that the Government will consider postponing this provision until the Report stage so that we may see whether some such arrangement as is proposed in this Amendment would be practicable.

Mr. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

May I also begin by congratulating the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs upon his appointment? I dare say that I shall be regarded as "difficult" by him occasionally, but my personal relations with his predecessor were always very happy and I have not the least doubt that they will be so with the right hon. Gentleman as well.

I should like to express my appreciation to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) for putting down these Amendments, because they go to the very fundamental depths of democracy in the Colonial Territories. I think that the point which he has raised is the point on the top of a pyramid of an absence of democracy in the Colonial Territories. When we are elected to this House we represent not only 50 million people in this country. but 77 million people in the non-self-governing territories.

Although, personally, I have taken the step of having a representative of the Colonial Territories at every Election meeting during my campaign, it is inevitable that in our Elections our attention is concentrated upon domestic and immediate issues around us. But in addition to that fact that this House is responsible for the welfare of these 77 million people who have not yet attained full self-government, there is the power at any moment to suspend such constitutions as exist, and that power can be exercised by the extraordinary, undemocratic process of the Minister of State, the Secretary of State and one other person going to the residence of Her Majesty, wherever it may be, and in ten minutes decreeing that the whole constitution of a Colonial Territory shall be suspended.

From a democratic point of view, that is absolutely outrageous. We saw it done in the case of British Guiana. This Bill gives power for it to be done in the case of the new constitution which will be set up in the Leeward Islands.

We are making a plea that at least before constitutions are destroyed in the Colonies, this House shall have the opportunity to discuss the matter, that a Statutory Instrument shall be brought here and that we shall have the right to make a decision. Even that would not be full democracy, but it would be a very great addition to the powers which this House ought to possess.

I was very interested indeed to hear the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) about the proposals which Mr. Fred Jowett made for more democratic procedure in this House. I had the honour to be the biographer of Mr. Fred Jowett and a very close and intimate friend of his. He was not a very spectacular figure, but the Labour movement and indeed the political life of this country has never had a more devoted and faithful servant than Fred Jowett. He made the proposal, as has been indicated in the speech of my right hon. Friend, that for the various Departments there should be Standing Committees which would have the respon- sibility of regularly discussing the matters relating to each Department.

I can see no sphere where that is more important than the sphere of the Colonial Territories, where those who are specially interested in the Colonies might from day to day discuss these issues which are continually arising. I do not suggest that we should press this Amendment to a Division. In a sense, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West has been exploring a new idea, and I think those who have listened to the debate will agree how useful that idea is. Nevertheless, I ask the Minister, who is entering upon his new post—

Mr. J. Griffiths

And the new Leader of the House, who has just arrived.

Mr. Brockway

Yes, I extend my appeal to the new Leader of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has not had the advantage of listening to the debate. I hope he will read the OFFICIAL REPORT of it, because new and constructive ideas for the better procedure of the House have been put forward during the debate. If we do not divide on the Amendment, I hope that, in return, they will at least consider the new ideas which have been expressed here today. I believe that those ideas will be of benefit to democracy in this country and will give greater confidence to the people in the Colonial Territories.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I should not have intervened but for the remarks of the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers), who managed to indicate that in some way I had been the villain of the piece in past days. Let me assure him that that is not so.

I want to disabuse the mind of some hon. Members about what happens when there is an emergency. Listening to what they have said today, one would think that when an emergency arises the Department whose jurisdiction it is to deal with the matter then considers it for the first time. I was Chairman of the Emergencies Committee of the Labour Government throughout the whole period, and I can tell hon. Members that that is not what happens. Even a Labour Government are not caught like that. I say "even" because I recognise that the majority is on the other side of the House, and it is as well to be respec-ful to the majority if one is a democrat.

Each Government Department has, as it were, its wall book for dealing with emergencies. The various documents are all ready. In this country, when there is an emergency, we do not proceed by Order in Council; we announce what we intend to do, the document is presented to the House and becomes operative from the moment it is presented, but we have to get the consent of the House within a limited number of days, and if we want the document to continue in force we have to come back to the House at the end of a month and obtain consent for its continuance.

I had to deal in that way with docks strikes, with a strike at Smithfield and other events of that kind. While we are responsible for the lives and destinies of these people in the Colonial Territories, there is no reason why the same procedure should not also apply there.

That is all that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) asks. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has said that there will not be a Division. Far be it from me to express disappointment at anything he does, because I am told that in a week's time he will be able to make it very uncomfortable for me if I do. Let me again err on the side of discretion. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway), who does not always follow what is said from the Front Bench, takes the same view, it will be even too heretical for me to suggest that any other course should be followed.

Mr. Benn

I will tell with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Ede

No. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) is an hereditary rebel, and I am not going to get mixed up with him. I was disappointed that the representative of a house which for three generations has brought distinction to this House by its lively concern in constitutional affairs should think it is better to be a Congressman than to be a Member of the House of Commons. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West, of course, suggests that there are financial advantages.

Mr. Hale

Real estate.

12.15 p.m.

Mr. Ede

But think of the distinction conferred upon my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West today. Successively hon. Members have designated him as an existing Queen's Counsel, learned in the law, although he is only a solicitor.

Such few of us here who recall the night when the Chamberlain Government went down need have no fear that this House cannot break Governments. When there was not even a majority vote against the Government, the feeling in the House, the atmosphere, did something which the American Congress cannot do. After all, the American constitution was designed so that the American people should never be governed—such checks and balances that it is always a position of stalemate.

If my hon. Friend's Amendment were adopted in principle, if not in the Bill but as the means by which this House should make it plain to the colonial peoples that it desires, as a House, to supervise as closely as possible all acts of Government in the Colonies, it would be a tremendous advantage in our relationships with the Colonies in these days when people are increasingly hoping that they will be treated as equals inside what I believe to be the greatest democratic group and form of government that has ever existed in the world. I share everything said by my hon. Friends the Members for Oldham, West and Eton and Slough when they said that we ought to have greater opportunities in the House for discussing directly the things which the British Government do for these colonial people.

Mr. Smithers

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down I should like to put a point to him. He was good enough to indicate that it was some words of mine which drew him to his feet. I am very glad that they did, because I should very much like to have the benefit of his long experience of this important matter of how to get colonial matters more fully discussed in the House. His right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) contended that if we passed this Amendment we should have more discussion.

Mr. J. Griffiths


Mr. Smithers

It has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Oldham, West that it would be possible to discuss Statutory Instruments late at night. Does not the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) agree with me that, with the pressure on the time of the House of which all present and past Leaders of the House must be aware, we could not have more effective discussion of colonial affairs in the House by extra emergency procedures or by having discussions late at night on Statutory Instruments. My contention is that to pass the Amendment will not promote better discussion of Colonial affairs in the House.

Mr. Ede

I certainly could not agree with the hon. Member—I could never do anything as uncomfortable as that. I believe that if the Amendment were inserted it would have a necessary restraining influence on Ministers. They would know that if they did something to which this House objected they could not hide it, as the revocation of the constitution of British Guiana was hidden for two or three days; it would have to be announced to the House straight away.

Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)

I would not have wished to intervene in the debate on this Amendment, although I know the Leeward Islands and love them—I was there last summer—but for the speech of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway). He cited British Guiana as an example of undemocratic procedure.

I well understand the sincere conviction with which the hon. Member holds that view but, having been there last year and asked many people, not only from British Guiana but other West Indian Territories, their opinion, from a practical point of view I think that that was the best method for us to follow on that occasion. If the Government had not taken decisive action straight away and if there had been the kind of time lag which has been suggested, although a pause for thought might be good, I wonder what might have been said in the House of Commons.

I would remind hon. Members that all of us were rather in the dark about the situation out there until our sense of proportion was restored by receiving expressions of opinion from other leaders of political thought and other Colonial Territories in the Caribbean. Then we were able to view the situation in a much clearer and better perspective.

Mr. Hale

I think the hon. Member has overlooked one or two facts in his contribution to a debate, to which he has not listened from the start. The order was made at 2.15 p.m. on Sunday, 30th October, and not put to the vote until a day or two later. It was not reported to the House until the Secretary of State for the Colonies published a White Paper in which he suggested that there had been a plot to burn down the offices of the Governor apparently with no more petrol than could be obtained from petrol lighters. No evidence has ever been brought before any court in support of that and the House was not informed until eight or nine days later, although they would have been informed by a competent colonial administrator.

Mr. Fisher

I was a little late coming into the debate—a quarter of an hour—and I realise that I must have missed a very important part of it. Although was not in British Guiana at the time, I have been there since and I think the conditions were far more serious than have been suggested. I think that we were right in the action we took. I wish only to make that point and to use it as an argument that the Executive simply must have this power in the event of an emergency. The example of British Guiana does not detract from that argument. It reinforces it.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

I wish to say a word or two in reply to the speech we have just heard from the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher).

Whatever might have been the case for the suspension of the Constitution of British Guiana—there are two views about that, even today—some of us had the opportunity of meeting both sides even at that time. The important thing is that if the case was as sound as has been claimed by the hon. Member for Surbiton surely there could have been no harm in bringing that case to the Floor of the House. If the Colonial Secretary had a cast iron case such as the hon. Member has alleged, surely the Members of this House are responsible people and could reach a conclusion equally as satisfactory as that of a Colonial Secretary.

I am not arguing now the merits or demerits of the suspension of the British Guiana Constitution. Even if it was urgent, no one will argue that it was in the post one morning and the British Colonial Secretary was informed the next. Things in British Guiana were not going so well as people believed. The important thing is that these Amendments would make it imperative, if the Colonial Secretary desired to suspend the Constitution, to come to this House with the information.

It was suggested by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) that it was difficult to debate Statutory Instruments late at night, but that could be put right by the Government of the day.

Mr. Smithers

At the expense of other business?

Mr. Jones

Not exactly, we could shorten the recesses. There is no need for hon. Members to be away for four weeks at Christmas time.

If interest in matters relating to the Colonies is so great, obviously there is nothing wrong with Members of the House interested in the Colonial Territories coming to the House before the House normally resumes its sittings. If other hon. Members want to stay away we may remember, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) indicated, that before the war colonial affairs were debated on days when it was convenient for most hon. Members not interested in them to be in some other place. It seems to me that there would be no difficulty whatever. Even if the Standing Committee idea did not appeal, days could be set apart for debating colonial matters provided there were the will so to do. I agree that that would be a revolutionary change. Whatever may be the view about that, I can never understand why it is possible for a city like Birmingham, with a million inhabitants, to conduct its business by the committee method satisfactorily and not possible in this case.

If these Amendments were carried it would be obligatory on the Coloniel Secretary of the day to come to the House and lay an order, which could be debated. If the only time at which that could be done is late at night, I can remember what happened in 1945 to 1950 and 1950–51. The hon. Member for Winchester and some of his friends made excellent speeches when they were in Opposition and kept us on the Government benches until our last trains had gone.

Mr. Smithers

The hon. Member always complained of that.

Mr. Jones

Of course I complained, because it involved a walk of two or three miles at 2 o'clock in the morning for me.

If it is necessary for these things to be debated at 2 o'clock in the morning I can think of other matters which were debated at that time which were not nearly so important. The stronger the case for doing the type of thing that was done in British Guinea the more important it is that the Colonial Secretary should come to the House before such an order is made so that hon. Members should exercise their right to determine such a decision.

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Hare

I think it might be convenient if I made a few remarks on the wide and very large number of subjects which have emerged from what I thought would be a rather limited discussion. We have covered with your permission, Sir Rhys, a very large amount of ground. I think that one thing which has emerged out of what has been almost a debate on colonial affairs has been the fact that on both sides of the Committee we are very anxious to get more information and to have more discussion on colonial matters. I am glad that the Leader of the House looked in a moment or two ago and was able to hear that view put forward from both sides of the Committee.

I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) for his very kind personal remarks, and also those other hon. Members who have been good enough to wish me well.

May I say a word or two about the right hon. Gentleman's speech? I was very glad that he paid tribute to Sir William McLean. We are extremely grateful to Sir William for supplying us with the information that we want. I assure the hon. and learned Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale)—

Mr. Ede

Not learned.

Mr. Hare

—and others, that I will look into the possibility of supplying the Library with more than one copy of these vital papers which he, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) were apparently competing for together at one moment last night. I am sure that something can be done to make more copies available.

The right hon. Gentleman made, I think, one or two most interesting points. I agree with him when he said that surely the time must come, with the modern science available to us, when scientists will be able to evolve some way to control the path of the hurricane. I am sure that the best brains in the world will be concentrated on that problem.

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the fact that the Virgin Islands do not wish to join in the federation. I can assure hon. Members that we are aware of the wishes of the Virgin Islanders on this matter. I think that in view of the fact that the federation conference is about to open in London, he would not wish me to pre-judge the decisions. I should like to join with him also in saying how much we are looking forward to welcoming the delegates from all over the Caribbean who will be arriving within the next few days for the conference, which starts in the middle of the week.

I think that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) who, in some of the detail of what he said, may have caused disagreement in the Committee. He did, on the other hand, make the point that we would like very much to have more opportunity to discuss colonial matters on the Floor of the House. I can assure him that so far as my right hon. Friend is concerned and I am concerned, the Colonial Office would welcome opportunities for this, but it is a question of the business of the House and Leaders of the House, of whatever political party, are apt to be not so co-operative as some of us who are enthusiasts in this matter would like.

Everyone here is, I am sure, deeply interested in the future of the Colonial Empire and the Commonwealth as a Whole. But what a small Committee it is present today. Admittedly, it is a Friday, but it is a pity that more of our colleagues do not take the same interest as those present today do in these matters.

I am afraid that despite the eloquence and the persuasiveness of speakers like the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Eton and Slough, I must still ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.

The main point of the argument which I put forward earlier has not been met. How can one deal with emergency matters, like hurricanes, when this House is not sitting? It is essential, in the interest of good government, to see that these powers are available to the Governors of these territories, because delay caused if an affirmative Resolution were necessary before effective action could be taken might mean the loss of many lives.

Mr. Ede

How did the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues deal with floods in Essex?

Mr. Hare

I am talking about hurricanes. I might be out of order if I discuss the floods in Essex. We are talking about the Leeward Islands, which are rather further away than Essex.

I ask the Committee to accept my recommendation that the Amendment be rejected.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

I think that the right hon. Gentleman has not done himself or the Committee justice in his reply to the very cogent arguments which have been advanced. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) mentioned the case of floods in Africa, I think that the Minister of State dismissed the point in far too cavalier a fashion. He said that Africa was a long way from the Leeward Islands.

Mr. Hare

The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said floods in Essex, not Africa.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Nevertheless, the Minister of State said that it was some distance away. Some of us recall the time when there was trouble in Czechoslovakia, before the war. Mr. Chamberlain then said that that was a long way away, but that does not deprive the House or the Committee of its responsibilities.

I hope my hon. Friend will agree with the point which I am trying to make, that the Minister of State has not to any extent answered or disposed of the validity of the arguments which my hon. Friends have put forward. In these circumstances, if my hon. Friends decide to press the Amendment to a Division, I shall be only too happy to go into the Division Lobby in support of the Amendment.

Mr. Hale

I am very grateful to the Minister for the kindly reference which he made to the way in which this Amendment was moved. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) somewhat ungallantly called his attention to the fact that I am not "learned." Some of my colleagues have often said that I am not honourable; and I would be the last person to call myself a gentleman. But I appreciate the generosity shown to me from the benches opposite.

Before I take a course which has now become almost inevitable, I should like, as passionately as I can, to say that whatever may be the duties of Devizes the duties of Oldham could not be performed by a well-trained dog. As my former Friend the late Professor Joad would say, "It all depends on what you mean by a well-trained dog." I am reminded of the story of the dog which played chess. A bystander said, "That must be a very clever dog," and its owner replied, "I do not think so. I have licked him twice." The duties I have to perform could not be performed by a well-trained dog, although I think that the duties of a Whip could be performed by a well-trained sheepdog.

This has been a very important and useful debate. The Minister made a notable beginning. In the course of a very well-reasoned and courteous argument, my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) was able to make suggestions of very great importance, which I am sure all of us would want to consider. Perhaps I may be permitted to say that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields is actually engaged on colonial affairs elsewhere at the moment, and has asked me to apologise for his absence because he is dealing with the vital affairs of another Colony.

My right hon. Friend made the most interesting suggestion that we could have something like the Scottish Grand Committee to consider colonial affairs. It is not really a question of what that Committee could achieve in terms of altering legislation. It is a question of the fact that there would then be a direct connecting link with Westminster spreading over the widespread territories for which we are responsible. Although I passionately believe in the march to self-government, many other things may appear just as important to the woman in poverty with children to raise—questions of full bellies, of economic development and of security are mixed up in all these matters.

If we could think of establishing a Committee of the House, concerned in the way that the Scottish Grand Committee is concerned with Scottish Measures, for dealing with colonial affairs and discussing them at leisure and at length, I am sure that the psychological importance of the recognition of what we were doing and of the chance of expressing views and of the chance of communication might be one of the most important things to have happened in the course of the House.

Having said that, I do not want to delay the Committee any longer. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields have suggested that this is a matter of importance which, in ordinary circumstances, we might well have pressed to a Division; but it has become almost a tradition that on a Friday morning one is not really anxious to divide the House, for more than one reason. I hope it will not be thought that we do not regard this as a matter of great importance, that we might not raise it again and that had the matter been discussed on an ordinary day, when there was a fuller assembly in the Committee, we might not indeed have thought fit to call a Division. Having said that, quite seriously, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.